She drove her car into her ex-husband’s house, vandalised his home and shot him and his new wife dead. But the story is anything but straightforward.
She drove her car into her ex-husband’s house, vandalised his home and shot him and his new wife dead. But the story is anything but straightforward.

Husband killer gets the Netflix treatment

Two days before her 42nd birthday, in the early hours of a Sunday morning, Betty Broderick entered her ex-husband's house.

She walked into the room where Daniel Broderick and his new wife Linda slept and emptied five rounds from her revolver - two bullets hit objects in the room, two hit Linda and one hit Daniel.

Linda died immediately. Daniel died a few minutes later after his punctured lung filled with blood. Betty is now serving 32 years to life in a California prison for her 1989 crime.

The story seems pretty clear: Jilted wife kills ex-husband and his new, younger wife.

But the history that led to the bedroom bloodbath is a complex story that tells you as much about the great lie women have been sold as it does about the mental disintegration of Betty Broderick.

A compulsive and dramatic new TV series, Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, explores the betrayals, the heartache and the empty promises of a marriage of unequals - and a bruising, drawn-out divorce.

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Amanda Peet portrays real-life murderer Betty Broderick
Amanda Peet portrays real-life murderer Betty Broderick

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Starring Amanda Peet and Christian Slater, Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story is the second season of the now-anthology series which was born from a popular Los Angeles Times podcast.

The first season, starring Eric Bana and Connie Britton, told the story of John Meehan, a conman who wormed his way into the life of affluent interior designer Debra Newell.

While this new instalment is a completely different story, it retains the DNA of the domestic drama as being a microcosm of the wider social issues in western society. If anything, the second season hits those thematic points more strongly than its predecessor.

Betty Broderick (Peet) was born in the post-WWII baby boom to Catholic parents in New York. Her mother and father were stern and emotionally distant and instilled in Betty the concept of a "good life" to mean a Catholic education, marriage to a successful man, and then a brood of children to dote on.

As she herself says, "I followed the rules, but the rule book only works if your husband follows it too".

 

Christian Slater as Daniel Broderick.
Christian Slater as Daniel Broderick.

Daniel Broderick (Slater) also came from a Catholic family and when they met, he was a medical student finishing his MD.

When he changed his mind about being a doctor and went for his law degree, it was Betty who worked menial jobs to support them and their two young daughters, making sacrifices in a small apartment with no hot water so the sartorially minded Daniel could order three custom coats they couldn't afford.

By the time their marriage unravelled, the Brodericks were part of the wealthy San Diego elite, he as a feared medical malpractice lawyer and she as the socialite envied by others.

The Brodericks' fate are a cautionary tale and an indictment on the hollow centres of the perfect life promised to women. You can do everything right and you will still have no control over your life if your husband decides to trade you in.

And in a clever bit of casting, the actor who plays the young Betty in flashbacks, Tiera Skovbye, is the splitting image of Rachel Keller, who plays Daniel Broderick's new wife, Linda.

Never mind that you gave up any career aspirations to support his ambitions and to be his greatest advocate. After all, financial dependence was part of the dream that was packaged and sold to women of that era - and, to a lesser degree, even now.

 

The real-life Betty and Daniel Broderick (L) and Linda and Daniel Broderick (R) Picture: Supplied
The real-life Betty and Daniel Broderick (L) and Linda and Daniel Broderick (R) Picture: Supplied

 

That a double-murderer with serious impulse control issues can be such an empathetic character is both credit to Peet's layered performance and the uncomfortable fact that Betty's situation is relatable.

Marriages that start off on even footing can easily morph into ones with great power imbalances - something Daniel appeared to have exploited during his union and while ending it.

And Slater is perfectly cast as the charismatic Daniel with a ruthless, controlling streak who thinks nothing of gaslighting his wife.

The definitions of victim and perpetrator become very hazy.

That's the real heart of the compelling Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, not the violent confrontation, but of how the fairytale ends with two dead bodies and a woman sitting in jail.

Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story is available to stream on Netflix from Friday, August 14 at 5pm AEST

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*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. 

Originally published as Husband-killer gets the Netflix treatment



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